The Alberta Small Brewers Development Program has been a highlight case for Canada’s bad tax laws and interprovincial protectionist policies. We did a big feature on it a few weeks ago. Here are the basics: Enacted in 2016, the program has been providing a monthly grant to Alberta breweries that produce and sell up to 300,000 hectoliters of product each year — that’s under 250,000 barrels. But the program has been accused of being a shell game that paid Alberta brewers back for the $1.25 per litre beer tax the province enacted a couple of years ago around the same time, and a very big lawsuit might force the Alberta government to payout $2.1 million in restitution because of it.
Toronto, Ontario-based Steam Whistle Brewing and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based Great Western Brewing Co. are nearing the end of lawsuit over the Alberta government’s beer markup policy. The court filing specifically contends that much of that $1.25 per litre tax that the Alberta government penalizes all breweries for is returned to Alberta beer producers in the form of grants from the Alberta Small Brewers Development Program. These breweries say that the grants are an unconstitutional trade barrier violating Canada’s Agreement on Internal Trade (a partnership to reduce and eliminate barriers between the provinces), and they’ve won for now.
Apparently, the Alberta government is appealing the decision of Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Gillian Marriott, who ordered the Alberta government to pay $2.1 million in restitution to Steam Whistle and Great Western after finding that the grant program policies implemented by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission were unconstitutional. According to CBC/Radio Canada:
Speaking to reporters Monday after flipping flapjacks on the grounds of the McDougall Centre, the government’s downtown Calgary offices, [Premier Rachel] Notley confirmed Alberta will appeal the ruling and seek a stay of it coming into effect as the court battle continues.
“But even as that is going on, we’ll be looking at other ways to address the issue,” Notley said, without specifying what measures her government is considering.
The Alberta government has continually noted it would reinvent the Alberta Small Brewers Development Program — though no one is quite sure how.
Asked why the province is appealing, the premier said, “So, when you lose, you appeal.”
Makes total sense.